Doctors Cite Pressure to Keep Silent On Bhutto
Tuesday, January 1, 2008; Page A01
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, Dec. 31 -- Pakistani authorities have pressured the medical personnel who tried to save Benazir Bhutto's life to remain silent about what happened in her final hour and have removed records of her treatment from the facility, according to doctors.
In interviews, doctors who were at Bhutto's side at Rawalpindi General Hospital said they were under extreme pressure not to share details about the nature of the injuries that the opposition leader suffered in an attack here Dec. 27.
"The government took all the medical records right after Ms. Bhutto's time of death was read out," said a visibly shaken doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Sweating and putting his head in his hands, he said: "Look, we have been told by the government to stop talking. And a lot of us feel this is a disgrace."
The doctors now find themselves at the center of a political firestorm over the circumstances of Bhutto's death. The government has said Bhutto, 54, was killed after the force of a suicide bombing caused her head to slam against the lever of her vehicle's sunroof. Bhutto's supporters have pointed to video footage, including a new amateur video released Monday, as proof that she was killed by gunfire.
The truth about what happened has serious implications in Pakistan. The ability of a gunman to fire at Bhutto from close range, as alleged by her supporters, would suggest that an assassin was able to breach government security in a city that serves as headquarters of the Pakistani military, bolstering her supporters' claims that the government failed to provide her with adequate protection.
If a gunman were to blame, it would also raise questions as to why the government has for days insisted otherwise. Bhutto's supporters have called for an international investigation.
The government has repeatedly dismissed allegations of a coverup, and some U.S. medical experts, when asked Monday to review an official hospital description of her wounds, speculated that a skull fracture and not a bullet wound killed Bhutto.
The medical personnel in Rawalpindi, meanwhile, have mostly remained quiet.
"Our doctors have become caught up in this very emotional and political issue," said Fayyaz Ahmed Khan, the doctors' supervisor at Rawalpindi General. "It's a terrible position for our medical professions to be in."
A newly released video that was obtained by Britain's Channel 4 and broadcast Monday cast doubt on the government's claims and appeared to corroborate witnesses' stories. The footage appeared to show a gunman and a suspected suicide bomber approaching Bhutto's sport-utility vehicle. Seconds later, the video showed gunfire and Bhutto's hair and scarf being blown back just as a bomb explodes.
Government officials identified Baitullah Mehsud, a pro-Taliban commander in the restive South Waziristan region, as the organizer of Bhutto's killing. But some observers said the government has been too quick to blame the attack on the Taliban.
Jameel Yusuf, a lead investigator in the 2002 disappearance of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi, said the Pakistani government had blundered badly by not sealing off the crime scene. Moments after Bhutto was killed, workers hosed down the blood at the blast site before any evidence could be collected.